Greener Streets Thanks to GPS?

Nitrogen oxide and reactive hydrocarbons from motor vehicle exhaust make up the majority of urban pollution. This, along with ever increasing congestion, has prompted Dutch legislators and environmental activists to attempt to change driving patterns. The Nederlands government has decided to abolish its annual road and car purchase tax for drivers and instead to charge the average car 0.03€ per kilometre driven, and an even higher rate for driving done during rush hour or periods of congestion. For larger automobiles, trucks and commercial vehicles, this charge will be even higher, considering that these motor vehicles emit more pollutants. The kilometre tax will increase every year until 2018 (when it will reach 0.068€), and will be augmented if driving patterns do not change. But how will the government monitor how much each individual is driving and during which times? By using Global Positioning System (GPS) tracking technology. By 2012, a monitoring device will be installed in every car in the Netherlands and will track the amount of kilometres traveled, the time of travel and the location of the vehicle. This information will then be sent to a billing agency.

The Dutch government is pressed to do something about vehicle use, because their road network has some of the most congested and often used roads in all of Europe. With the GPS technology in place, the Dutch Ministry of Transportation hopes that congestion will decrease on roads during rush hours, and there are already estimates that overall driving will decrease by 15 percent and that rush hour congestion will be halved. On top of this, the ministry also hopes that car accidents will decrease by 7 percent due to less stressed drivers, and that carbon emissions will decrease by 10 percent. There are several opponents in this debate, because firstly, people who drive for business reasons will be heavily taxed, and it could cost the government over 1 billion Euros ($1.5 billion US) in tax income that would otherwise be earned by an annual road tax. At the same time, some argue that the GPS system will be like “Big Brother” –-constantly monitoring the locations of drivers at all hours. However, the Ministry of Transportation has assured the public that the information from the individual GPSs would be “legally and technically protected” and that the data would only be available to the government for the purpose of kilometre billing.

Other countries are also considering this option as a way of reducing car use, but it must be remembered that the Netherlands is roughly the size of the Canadian province of Nova Scotia and, unlike Canada, has an extensive and highly developed public rail and transportation network. This means that commuting from rural to urban areas or vice versa is far less of a problem than it would be in a Canadian city. If this kilometre tax were to be implemented in a city like Toronto for example, those living in rural areas and being forced to commute into the city would often have no choice other than to drive, there being no alternatives available. At the same time, it has not yet been talked about what occurs when an in-car GPS system breaks down. And what happens when the noise, bias or blunder errors from GPS are so bad that individuals are being charged fines that do not correspond to the number of kilometres they drove? Lastly, GPS satellites are owned by the U.S. military. Without an agreement or contract, the Dutch government cannot be sure that this service will be available to them forever and at all periods of time. Despite these possible problems, it is good to see that governments are finally taking serious action to decrease the use of motor-vehicles, even if this means accepting a little help from Big Brother.

Thanks, MV, Intro GIS


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